‘Slow progress’ in widening access to university, reports Scottish Funding Council

Written by Tom Freeman on 26 September 2017 in News

First report against Commission for Widening Access recommendations reveals slow progress by universities

Edinburgh University - Creative Commons

There has been only a small improvement in the number of studtents from more deprived background going to university, figures from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) have revealed.

It is the first time the post-school education funding body has produced such a report, which charts progress for Scotland’s Commission for Widening Access.

The report shows that in 2015-16, 14.0 per cent of Scottish domiciled full-time first degree entrants to university were from the 20 per cent most deprived areas, a marginal increase from 13.9 per cent the previous year.


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In some individual universities, the proportion had gone down, including the University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh, Glasgow School of Art and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

St Andrews University had the lowest proportion of entrants from the 20 per cent most deprived parts of Scotland at 5.1 per cent, an increase from 5.0 per cent the previous year.

The target set by the Commission for Widening Access is for students from the poorest backgrounds to make up 20 per cent of entrants by 2030.

Currently only Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the West of Scotland are meeting that target.

Only 10 of Scotland’s universities are meeting the interim target for individual institutions of 10 per cent.

However, the figures show over a third of people leaving colleges with a qualification now go on to study at University.

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said she expected progress to go “further, faster” and pledged to implement recommendations from the Commission in full, including changing admission rules.

“To accelerate the pace of change, we expect universities, colleges and all of our stakeholders across the sector to work with us to implement the recommendations as quickly as possible – ensuring all of our young people get the best possible start in life,” she said.

The National Union of Students called the report “incredibly frustrating”.

NUS Scotland Vice President Education Jodie Waite said: “We know there is fantastic work being done across the sector, and widening access has rightly been a priority for many areas of work, but we need to see universities acting with greater urgency to address these worrying figures.

She added: “Our focus should not just be on getting people into education – we also need to look at how we support them to remain and succeed when they get there.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said the figures highlighted the importance of colleges to widening access, with 28 per cent of higher education now being delivered by colleges.

“The report demonstrates what we as a sector already know; enrolling at college improves life chances for people and helps those furthest away from the labour market,” she said.

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